Contextual Learning Toolkits

The Contextual Learning Toolkits are the result of the research conducted to address the recommendations of the Perkins Review of Engineering Skills and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Universe of Engineering Report about engineering student’s placements in companies.

The report is part of the close work that the EPC has being doing with the NCUB on its “engineering workwith” hub of information for employers on how to work with university engineering departments to provide work experience opportunities and other forms of collaboration to enhance the workreadiness of students, and follows the outcomes of a survey conducted by the EPC during September/October 2015 on Contextual Learning in UK HE Engineering. The report includes the main findings of the research aimed to explore engineering students’ placement experiences and case studies. Two separate, but interlinked, toolkits, were developed:

  • Toolkit for Students
  • Toolkit for Universities and Employers

The toolkit for Students was designed to support students to get the best from their placement experience.

The toolkit for Universities and Employers was designed to support higher education institutions and employers to enhance the experience and the value of students’ placements.


The toolkits were structured to support the placement experience in three key stages: before, during and after placement.


For the purpose of the toolkits:

  • a placement is where learning opportunities are available for the student to undertake engineering practice under guidance and supervision;
  • an academic supervisor is the key link at the university, during the placement (if applicable);
  • a placement supervisor is the direct manager at the company, during the placement.


Before Placement

Toolkit for students

When choosing your placement, you need to consider a wide range of aspects such as your motivations for doing a placement, type and length, discipline, location and type of company.

First of all, get in touch with your Faculty’s or University’s Career Services, as they will provide you useful information and support on choosing and applying for a placement, building up your CV, and getting prepared for interviews.

Top Tips

  • Apply early but don’t apply just for the sake of applying. Choose your placement according to your interests and expectations. After all, you will spend a lot of your time and effort in the company.
  • Explore the websites of the companies you would like to work with. Many do offer placement opportunities. Also check with your university’s Career Services.
  • Ensure you understand the specific expectations of the placement – get in contact with your academic supervisor and your placement supervisor.
  • Know how you are going to meet your learning outcomes. How will your learning be assessed? Keep a log book/diary of your activities.
  • Have realistic expectations, and understand that they may change throughout your placement.
  • Always act professionally with regard with punctuality, attitude and image. Your career services can provide you with a set of professional skills.

Should I do a placement?

Not sure about doing a placement?

These students have already done one, read what they had to say about it.

Doing a placement will improve your chances of getting a good job after graduating enhances your professional recognition.  There’s also lots of evidence that students who gain some form of relevant work experience during their studies improve their grades.

“But the good news is that they offered me a job, which is really good! So this year all of my friend in university have been looking around for jobs and I don’t have to worry about that. It has taken a huge weight from my shoulders this year.”

What placement should I choose?

Do you want to narrow down your interests?

In this case you can pick a company where you can try different roles and work in a wider range of projects to get a taste of the different engineering fields. Instead of doing just one placement, you can also do short placements in different companies, for example, during summertime.

“I think it’s really important if you are given the opportunity to enter a company for a short period of time to see as much as the company as possible, and not just the little sector where you are working, so that you can have a better feel of how companies in general work.”

Do you want to focus on a specific engineering field?

If you already know the engineering field you want to specialise and work in the future, you should go for a placement of your preferred engineering field. You can have a look on your future professional engineering institution on the Engineering Council.

“So far the experience has been really good because I always wanted to do it and having this opportunity to experience that, is really satisfying.

What length of placement is best for me?

Do you want to do a short placement? Or a summertime placement?

Get in contact with your University’s Career Services.

You can also look for placement opportunities searching on specialist websites such as:

Do you want to do a Year in Industry?

You might consider doing a gap year during your degree if you want to:

  • Get experience in your field of study before graduating. Employers value work experience when recruiting new candidates.
  • Increase your employment prospects. Many students get a work contract after their placement in the company.
  • Have a break from university and experience the world of work.

The Year in Industry (YINI) scheme provides STEM placements. They provide high-quality, paid placements for students in their gap year before or during their degree course.

“It is meant to be a learning experience year, so you should be able to get a broad range of experience. I worked in lots of different teams, did so many different things, and that was absolutely fantastic.”

“I did it through the Engineering Development Trust ‘Year in Industry Scheme’. I was intending to take a year, anyway, after the university, so why not just take it before? So I took my year and went to find a job on something which I found really interesting and very helpful.”

To which type of company should I apply for?

Choose a company that will enable you to explore your interests, support your learning and future expectations.

Working in a big company you would be able to have the opportunity to work in different departments and projects. Working in a small company you would be able to get a more individualized experience and you will be more likely to have a closer direct management.

Don´t forget to consider salary, travel and accommodation

Ask yourself the following questions and plan ahead.

  • Will my salary be enough to pay for living costs?
  • Am I willing to move in a different city for doing the placement?
  • Can I easily travel there? What’s the public transport like and how much will it cost?

“I think it’s also important to know where you are living. I’ve applied for jobs in Aberdeen, and I am from London. So… I think if I had gone to some of those it would have been a real struggle, because it would have been much a more cut-off and much more difficult. Location is definitely an important thing to take into account.”

“And thirdly, the location. At this age it’s important to be in a nice city, because you need to enjoy your life as well.”

Get prepared

The application process can be complex. Ask for advice in your university’s career services, but be proactive.  You might like to also explore the following resources:

Are you an international student?

Does your placement have VISA requirements? You can explore the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) for more information. Get in contact with your Career Services for advise and support.

Toolkit for Universities and Employers


  • Ensure Health and Safety procedures in the placement. Have a look on ASET’s Good Practice Guide on Health and Safety for Student Placements
  • Give effective support in identifying placement possibilities, combining students and employers’ expectations.
  • Help students in writing up CV’s and cover letters.
  • Prepare students for interviews (e.g. mock interviews).
  • Assign an academic supervisor to support and visit the student during their placement, and act as key contact link with the company.
  • Ensure Health and Safety.


  • Set clear guidelines and criteria for selecting a student – knowledge and skills.
  • Assign a placement supervisor to support and guide the student during their placement, and act as a key contact link with the university.
  • Plan and deliver an Induction programme/pre-placement, so that student feels like part of the team. Suggested issues to address:
    • Health and Safety
    • Professional skills and conduct (dress code, culture of the company)
    • Management expectations
    • Visits to different departments of the company, so the student appreciates quickly how it all fits together

Joint actions

  • Organise a joint meeting to agree milestones and methods of supervision and assessment. The combined assessment criteria could be organised according to the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). The UK-SPEC “sets out the competence and commitment required for registration as an Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). It also includes examples of activities that demonstrate the required competence and commitment”
    • Suggestion: consider using mycareerpath – an online professional development system, designed by the Engineering Council and adopted by many professional engineering institutions for use by their members. The system is aligned with the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) for EngTech, IEng, and CEng. The system is also aligned with other titles such as CPhys, CEnv, and CSci, to provide one platform to suit all. Progress can be measured and tracked against the competence statements for the chosen registration category.
  • Organise a joint meeting with the student, agree overall objectives and set expectations
  • Sign an agreement between the student, university and employer. The suggested topics below could be considered, if applicable:
    • Project title
    • Working hours (flexible or non flexible work arrangements)
    • Salary
    • Holiday entitlement
    • Expected dresscode
    • Student’s roles and responsibilities
    • University’s roles and responsibilities – academic supervisor
    • Employer’s roles and responsibilities – placement supervisor
    • Schedule for academic visits and other meetings
    • Assessment criteria
    • Activities and resources are covered by university’s fees

Useful resources

Have a look on ASET, the Work Based and Placement Learning Association, Good Practice Guides for Work Based and Placement Learning in Higher Education.


During Placement

Toolkit for students

During your placement you have the responsibility to get the most of your experience. Be proactive in seeking out experiences for your level of practice and skills with the support of your placement supervisor at the company.

Top Tips

  • Be proactive. Use your placement as an opportunity to develop your professional network. Create a LinkedIn profile.
  • Appreciate that your supervisors have other responsibilities besides you. Be clear, professional and flexible in your dealings with them.
  • Arrange meetings proactively with your supervisors, ensure you have a clear agenda and keep your appointments.
  • Don´t forget to enjoy your life outside placement.

How can I get the most of my placement?


Communication is key. Demonstrate your willingness to work as part of the team and adopt a reflective approach to your learning. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for feedback as much as possible. 

Reflective skills

Also, reflect on your progress. Writing a log book and or/diary will help you not only to track and gather evidence of your learning, but also to increase your self-awareness and confidence.

Continuous development

Look out for learning opportunities in your company that were not initially expected to occur in your placement. Also, utilize learning opportunities outside the placement. Have you ever thought about learning a new language, or develop your business skills? Employers value your ability to learn new things inside and outside your field of study. Have a look at your university’s free courses or explore online resources such as:

Develop your professional network

Engage with your colleagues, be part of the team and be open to new learning experiences. Work in as many projects as possible, even if not directly related with your placement learning outcomes. You might enjoy things that you were not initially considering to do. Many students were offered jobs after their placements because of their engagement with the company.

How will I be assessed?

Make sure you know the criteria in advance. What is expected from you? Know your learning outcomes, learning tasks and assessment which you should agree with both your academic and your placement supervisors.

I am struggling with my placement. What can I do?

Seek guidance and support from your placement supervisor to enable you to achieve your learning outcomes.

If the relationship with your placement placement supervisor is not working for any reason, seek help from your university’s academic supervisor.

Work-life balance

Your placement can be a bit daunting in the beginning. You may feel that is all about work and getting yourself stuck in. However, it’s also important to have a good work-life balance.

Toolkit for Universities and Employers


Academic supervisor

  • Ensure ongoing support and visits to the student at the placement site.
  • Be available to meet face-to-face, by email or phone, according to the pre-placement agreement.
  • Monitor student progress and attainment of learning outcomes. This is particularly relevant if the placement is credited by the university.

University facilities

  • Provide pastoral care for students.
  • Consider implementing a peer mentor scheme, as appropriate.


Placement supervisor

  • Try to give your student a set of activities that are valuable to the company, fit with the curriculum and are related with the degree.
  • Ensure that your student is given the opportunity to present their work to a small audience from various areas of the business.
  • Allow the student to explore different areas of the company and engage with different projects/activities.
  • Identify learning and training opportunities that are available in the company and encourage students to participate.
  • Treat the student as regular staff, in the context of the placement experience.

Joint actions

  • Provide regular and constructive feedback.
  • Monitor student progress and attainment of learning outcomes.
  • Provide time for reflection, regular and constructive feedback. Give suggestions on how to make further improvements.
  • Set clear milestones and reviewing points with both the student, their academic supervisor and their placement supervisor.


After Placement

Toolkit for students

Your placement provides you with new learning experiences, knowledge, and skills that will be assessed by your university and valued by future employers.

Top Tips

  • Keep in touch with the people you’ve met and worked with.
  • Update your CV. Be proactive and engage with your Careers Service or Professional Institution for support.
  • Share your experience with the next generation of students.
  • Build your language skills. In the global market, knowing more than one language can be a plus.


On completion of your placement, ensure that you have submitted all the documents and reports on the due date.

Evaluate the placement itself and prepare for meeting with your personal tutor and placement coordinator. 

Reflect and evaluate your achievements

Look at what you’ve enjoyed the most and benefited from during your placement experience.

How do you assess your skills development? Reflect on what you have achieved and the skills you have acquired to enable this.

Reflect on what have you enjoyed the most, what have you and least, and why.

Your future plans

Write your CV, and give specific examples based on the experience you acquired during your placement.

Contact your Careers Service for individual advise on your future plans.

Think about professional registration

Once you have achieved the necessary qualifications and workplace experience you should apply to your institution to become professionally registered.  Your institution will guide you through the registration process and help you to decide when you’re ready to apply.

Read more on the Engineering Council website.

As you prepare to enter the world of work, it’s critical to align your skills and experience with the needs of the businesses which will look to employ you. Many employers made it plain that undergraduates achieving professional registration as an Engineering Technician (EngTech) and / or ICT Technician (ICTTech) on completion of their year in industry will have a distinct advantage when it comes to finding employment upon graduation.

Read more about the technician professional registration for students on The Institute of Engineering and Technology website.

Share your experience with fellow students

Share your thoughts and experience with your Career Services and fellow students at your university. You can also have a wider impact contacting organisms such as the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) and their dedicated programmes such as My Placement Experience.

Toolkit for Universities and Employers


Careers Service

  • Support students in writing up CV’s based on their recently acquired experience, knowledge and skills.
  • Collect case studies and disseminate best practices.

University Departments

  • Keep in contact with employers.
  • Invite key links to become part of the Advisory Board.


  • Write an exit reference at the end of the placement.
  • Consider continuing engagement with the university:
    • offering placements for next years
    • becoming part of the Advisory Board
    • contributing to curriculum design
    • support employers in implemeting future placements

Joint actions

  • Get feedback from the student at the end of the placement.
  • Provide a final assessment record.
  • Identify benefits and costs.